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Ministroke or TIA: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments


No stroke is good, but there are some worse than others. That’s the case of a “ministroke,” also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which doesn’t present all of the telltale symptoms of a full-blown stroke and doesn’t lead to permanent brain damage.

However, it’s important to know if you’ve had a mini-stroke, because TIA can be a warning sign that a more serious stroke is on its way. Here are 12 facts about mini-strokes you should be aware of…

1. What is a Ministroke?

Self.com explains that a ministroke “is a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain that does not result in permanent brain injury.” Unlike a “regular” stroke, which causes extended blockage of blood, a ministroke’s blockage will break up relatively quickly, it adds.

In essence, a blockage leading a full-blown stroke need medical intervention, while a blockage causing a ministroke will clear up on its own. You may feel fine after a ministroke, but don’t take that as a reason to avoid seeing a doctor.

2. Telltale Symptoms of TIA

There can be a variety of symptoms associated with a ministroke, but there are some more common signs to watch out for. Healthline.com notes the most common complications include (sudden) changes in your vision, balance problems, confusion, and tingling.

It can also cause dysphasia (trouble speaking) like a regular stroke can, as well as the weakness on 1-side of the body, add the source. The difference again is that these 2-symptoms will be temporary.

3. Speech Problems

If you experience dysphasia associated with a ministroke, then you may just think you had problems recalling some words without suspecting a medical episode, adds Healthline.

While you may have trouble speaking, at the same time you may experience temporary difficulty in understanding what people are saying to you, it adds. This symptom can give doctors a clue to where the problem lies in the brain: “Trouble speaking indicates that the blockage or blood clot that caused the ministroke occurred in the dominant brain hemisphere,” says the source.

4. Temporary Vision Loss

A blog post by NovaVision in Florida explains that a person suffering a TIA and a full-blown stroke can experience visual interferences, but they won’t be the same for both episodes. With a TIA, patients often “experience vision loss in one eye, first the eye seems to dim as everything is seen through an opal glass pane, then vision is completely lost,” notes the source. This is referred to as Transient Monocular Blindness (TMB).

Those having a regular stroke can cause partial blindness and tunnel vision (up to 20-percent of stroke sufferers will have permanent damage), and it can often affect balance and coordination, it adds.

5. Think FAST

Any sort of stroke can often be recognized by following the FAST principles, notes MedicineNet.com. FAST is an acronym for key symptoms associated with a stroke warning or a full-blown stroke.

In the acronym, the “F” stands for face drooping, which makes it very difficult for a patient to smile. The “A” is for arm weakness – so ask the patient to raise both arms to determine if there’s any difficulty. The “S” is for speech difficulty, as we’ve already covered, and the “T” means call 911 if any of these symptoms are present, says the source.

6. What Causes TIA?

Healthline explains that high blood pressure is the leading culprit when it comes to having a ministroke. If your doctor has reported your blood pressure being high (which you likely won’t be able to determine on your own), it’s important to come up with a plan to manage it.

Other reasons you may be experience a TIA is a blood clot, narrowed blood vessels in and around the brain, diabetes, or high cholesterol, adds the source. While sometimes you may not know you’re at risk, the latter 2-causes can be diagnosed and managed by a physician.

7. Other Risk Factors

MedicalNewsToday.com explains that while some of the risk factors for ministroke can be controlled, others not so much. Those factors include age (55-and older are at highest risk), family history of strokes and TIA, gender (men are slightly more at risk), and ethnic background – African-American ancestry puts you in a higher risk bracket, it adds.

Risk factors you can control include hypertension, smoking, lack of activity (known as a sedentary lifestyle), poor diet, high cholesterol levels, obesity, alcohol consumption, and use of illicit drugs, it adds.

8. It’s Happening More Often in Young People

While we’ve just told you that the biggest age bracket at risk is the 55-and older crowd, Self.com reports that strokes in general are happening more in young people due to common factors like tobacco use and obesity.

The source adds that 1-of the biggest risk factors for strokes in younger people is called arterial dissection, “which is when there is a tear of the inner lining of the artery that goes to the brain,” it explains. This can be caused by a neck injury or even from hyperextension of the neck when having your hair washed at the salon, it adds.

9. Doctor Diagnosis

How will a doctor be able to tell if you had a ministroke, if there are no remaining symptoms? As Heathline points out, a TIA doesn’t cause permanent brain tissue damage like a regular stroke, which will show up on a scan after 24-hours or so. “The distinction requires a medical evaluation,” it adds.

In the case of a TIA, your doctor may use an ultrasound to determine if there’s “significant blockage or plaque in your carotid arteries,” notes the source. An echocardiogram can also determine if there are blood clots in your heart, it adds.

10. Separating TIA From Other Problems

It may be difficult for a doctor to differentiate a ministroke from another health problem, as several share symptoms. In fact, according to BMJ Journals (Practical Neurology), up to 60-percent of patients referred to a TIA clinic will not get a final diagnosis of TIA.

Seizures and migraine headaches can be similar in some ways to a ministroke, but those 2-conditions often start with “positive” symptoms such as flashing in the visual field, while TIAs often start with “negative” symptoms such as loss of vision, hearing, or movement, it explains. Duration is also important – while the “aura” associated with migraines can last hours, TIAs almost always last less than 1-hour, it adds.

11. Reducing the Risk

There are a number of things you can do to lower your risk of ministroke, but some of them are easier said than done and may need to assistance of a medical professional to be successful.

For example, HealthTalk.org explains quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol intake (men should have no more than 2-drinks per day, women 1-drink per day), maintaining a “healthy” weight, and getting regular exercise can all help you dodge a ministroke. You should also make dietary changes to cut down on salt, sugar and fats, while bulking up on fruit and vegetables – which can help control blood pressure are cholesterol levels, it adds.

12. How to Treat TIA

Healthline.com explains there are several treatment options available for ministrokes, focusing on improving blood flow to the brain avoid a bigger stroke in the future.

These treatments include anti platelet medications designed to prevent blood clots (due to platelets in the blood sticking together), and can include aspirin, or prescription drugs such as Plavix. Other drugs such as warfarin target proteins in the blood to prevent clots. There’s also a surgical procedure called a minimally invasive carotid intervention that is used to open up clogged arteries using a catheter. Surgeons may also have to perform a carotid endarterectomy to clear fatty deposits in arteries, it adds.

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